New NPR guidelines limiting the on-air promotion of podcasts and the network’s own NPR One app drew mixed reactions upon their release Thursday, with some questioning the strategy and others citing stations’ fears of competition on non-broadcast platforms.
The guidelines were posted on the blog of Mark Memmott, NPR’s supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. “Our hope is to establish basic principles that are easy to understand and allow plenty of flexibility for creativity,” said Chris Turpin, NPR’s v.p. for news programming and operations, in the memo. “These guidelines apply to all podcasts, whether produced by NPR or by other entities.”
Turpin said that NPR has been fielding questions “from news staff and Member stations” about policies for discussing podcasts on air. “To that end, we want to establish some common standards, especially for language in back announces,” he wrote.
Shows should not feature “calls to action” to download podcasts, Turpin said, such as “download Alt.Latino from iTunes and, of course, via the NPR One app.”
In addition, “when referring to podcasts, and the people who host, produce, or contribute to them, we will mention the name of the podcast but not in a way that explicitly endorses it,” he said. In addition, “references should not specifically promote the content of the podcast.”
And “for now,” the network will not promote its NPR One app on air, Turpin said.
When asked why the changes were made, NPR spokesperson Isabel Lara told Current in an email: “People know how to find podcasts. It’s like when we talk of books on air: We mention the title & author, not the bookstore.”
As for NPR One, NPR continues “to work with our Member stations to fully realize a complete local/national listening experience on NPR One,” Lara said. “Until then, we’ve decided not to promote on air.”
Reactions to the new guidelines were mixed among stations. “. . . [T]he key is that when you have [a] guest with a podcast, the association with that ‘product’ should be treated no different than if they are an author of a book, etc.,”said Tim Eby, g.m. at St. Louis Public Radio, in an email to Current. “We don’t tell listeners to ‘buy the book’ or ‘buy the CD.’”
“We can’t run from the fact that the listener is in control in 2016, and we need to find the ways to embrace this in ways that strengthen our system rather than be in denial that our listeners have numerous choices/platforms to get content,” Eby added.
Mark Vogelzang, c.e.o. at Maine Public Broadcasting, told Current that the policies were “good guidance.”
“. . . [I]t makes sense for NPR and for stations to be on the same page,” he said. “That’s what listeners expect.”
NPR One is a “deeper issue” among stations, Vogelzang said, with some station managers having “conflicted feelings” about the app because it could draw listeners away from local stations. “I think from NPR’s perspective, keeping the promotion of NPR One off the major newsmagazines is politically better for them,” he said.
Many chimed in on Twitter with reactions:
this doesnt make me feel good: https://t.co/fVSKR0Xpgq i like when NPR promotes a place to hear WSKG + why shouldn’t they push great pods?
— Teresa Peltier (@tpea) March 17, 2016
@kenji_matsuoka This may be their dumbest move since firing Bob Edwards https://t.co/dsYEpcBYCX
— Brent Butler (@sfbrent) March 17, 2016
Still processing, but pretty sure this is a step back
— Nicholas Quah (@nwquah) March 17, 2016
Good strat, maybe if you don't say their name they'll go away like Beetlejuice https://t.co/Fc1krL4Jj1
— Reyhan Harmanci (@harmancipants) March 17, 2016
This reminds me of print newspaper executives' guidelines on not talking about the Internet, circa 2003. https://t.co/uLnnPH5cp4
— Matt DeRienzo (@mattderienzo) March 17, 2016
@kairyssdal @currentpubmedia @nprone NPR is missing the forest for the trees.
— Nathaniel Johnson (@ShooterF16) March 17, 2016
Clarification: This article has been updated with an additional comment from Eby’s original email to Current to better represent his point of view.
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I’d love to see a poll of what the majority of GMs and PDs think about this new guideline.
As a NiemanLab article on this topic really demonstrates, this whole story is just a glaring example of how the current NPR/member station funding dynamic is rapidly becoming unsustainable over the long term.
Whose interest comes first, the listener or the member station?
It is highly strategic for public radio stations to promote one awesome app that highlights localized and national content. If you search public radio on Google Play or iTunes, you’ll note some extremely popular apps (and I will bet retained and used more than anything from NPR or local stations) run by individuals/small agile companies. I’d look to the UK Radio Player for some inspiration and BBC’s radio iPlayer as well.
I happen to be promoting a different slice of radio – world news in English from as many countries as I can find (60+ now) from any provider commercial, public, external services, and select popular or world affairs/cultural podcasts – with my 1 Radio News app: http://1radionews.com
I’ve noted that more and more people under 35 don’t have radios in their homes 32% – http://www.edisonresearch.com/the-infinite-dial-2016/ – see slides 12 and 13 … so if you don’t promote online/mobile options during drive time your programming will increasingly be inaccessible to more potential listeners during the weekend, while cleaning the kitchen, etc. Or at least inaccessible via an interface that might promote one-click online pledging.
My experience over the last two years is that the radio news lovers I am connecting to a highly curated selection of content really really like having a single source for content from multiple stations. If you look at most of the local single station or single network apps, they have relatively low take up considering the ability to promote on-air and on station websites. The expectations of users seem pretty high and the app ratings seem to show that. So, whether it is making NPR One (or something neutrally branded) the go to geo-aware app for local stations, I do think the many stations need to band together to reach and serve listeners on mobile in a more unified, public spirited way or your little app islands will suffer in obscurity.
The bigger question this raises is what’s the value of the bricks and mortar towers across the country beyond being a pass through for national programming.